Whitehot Magazine

Michael A Robinson: The Gift Of Oblivion - Galerie Diagonale Montreal

 The Gift of Oblivion, Exhibition view


Galerie Diagonale
09.8 - 10.13, 2018 

By JAMES D. CAMPBELL October, 2018

“Every artist is linked to a mistake with which he has a particular intimacy. All art draws its origin from an exceptional fault, each work is the implementation of this original fault, from which comes a risky plenitude and new light.”

― Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come [1]

In this important exhibition, Michael Robinson goes backwards and forwards over his body of work. He explores some new territory while magnifying and deepening enduring themes. He shows us that making s new start is an endeavour that is always fraught with risk. He welcomes that risk and, for him, a beginning is, as they say, a very delicate time. In the works exhibited here, his consciousness turns back upon itself as he circles in closer and closer on the elusive quarry of what creativity means, and what it might mean to fail.  

The exhibition takes its cue from French philosopher and literary giant Maurice Blanchot’s enigmatic (and hugely engrossing) fiction Awaiting Oblivion (1962).  That story examines at close quarters the encounter between a man and a woman in the decidedly reduced environment of a hotel room. The plot, such as it is, dilates on their relationship and its history. Their dialogue is mirrored in the voice of a narrator seemingly prey to their same confusion as to why it is that they are there. They are caught up in the yin and yang of love and repulsion as they seek to rekindle the former. The dual axes of waiting and forgetting govern the plot and their dialogue. What they cannot remember is the event of their first meeting and their respective perceptions as to the how if not the why of that event is subject to perennial revision. They strive to obviate this forgetfulness -- even as the formal vous is employed as address rather than the more intimate tu -- as they await oblivion. Imagination is understood as the alembic in which their shared reality transpires. Blanchot’s argument that even a chiasmic dialogue that embodies meaninglessness must necessarily embody and communicate meaning is implicit in the work of Michael Robinson. He explores the fertile conceptual space between waiting and forgetting, being and becoming, existing and oblivion, with rare panache and phenomenological acuity. As Blanchot wrote: ‘’Forgetting, waiting. Waiting that assembles, disperses; forgetting that disperses, assembles. Waiting, forgetting.’’ [2] 

 E.T.Y.N.T.G.S., support fixtures, LED lights, transparent curtain, wooden stage, 2018. 114inch diameter x 8' 4inch

This is the engine that drives works like Nothingisnotnothing (appropriated loading social media image, lightbox, 42 x 42”, 2018) and E.Y.N.T.G.S (found objects, led lights, nylon veils, wooden stage, 114 x 114 x 100”, 2018). Robinson attempts a no-holds-barred auto-reflection on his own creativity. His will to work power is predicated on his ability to achieve proximity to the core of his own work and his simultaneous denial and embrace of waiting and forgetting. He is also alert to the ever-present prospect or, better, promise of failure. As Samuel Beckett said (in Worstward Ho): “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” [3] 

 #beach and #longsummernights, social media loading images, LED light fixtures, transparent curtain, 2018 10' x 20'

"The Gift of Oblivion" is a zero-sum game the intention of which is to present images and ideas in the state of their own gestation and potential adequation. Thus, the methodological ‘veiling’ in terms of material images and ideas. The veil is also the scrim between memory and its referent, the intention and the act, a beginning and an end not of meaning but of creative facture. 

The title "The Gift of Oblivion" refers to a state in which Robinson is said to feel comfortable – and comfortably challenged. Hence, oblivion understood as being a ‘gift’. As he says, there exists nothing more satisfying than the oblivion wherein the future itself is still an infinite open set of possibilities. Optical centrepieces in this show like the nylon-veiled #beach and #longsummernights  (2018) transport the viewer to an ontological domain which is also, as Robinson says, “an oblivion where all objects are equally pregnant with potential and where the difference between choosing or fabricating matters less than giving shape and weight to the medium of experience.” This is how the notion of oblivion itself might also be considered the ultimate beginning and perhaps, unlikeliest of self-bestowed gifts. 

#athingisnotathong and #artist, social media loading image, lightbox frame, 2018

#artist 40 x 40 inches each

 Square root, drawing with objects via image, 2018

Working backwards and sideways and counterintuitive to clarity, by his own confession, Robinson moves his project along by slow temporal increments.  He, like fellow-traveller Polish-Born, Berlin-based Natalia Stachon, seems enmeshed in the conceptual world of Blanchot, as they both dilate upon and linger within beginning-points and procedural methodologies. Herein, Walter Benjamin’s dialectical images (with past and present tightly interwoven) are gravid with promise. Meaning merges into the foreground as past and future are gathered and reconciled. Both artists are poised on the threshold of making where “Everything is already complete and not yet even begun." [4]

In a very real sense, all of Robinson’s work qualifies as a brave and unrelenting (and high-stakes) self-interrogation as to his own intentions, insights and not least his manner of working and for this, we should all be grateful. WM


1. Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 2002)

2. See Maurice Blanchot, Awaiting Oblivion, trans. John Gregg (Lincoln, NE: University

    of Nebraska Press, 1999)

3. Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho (New York: Grove Press, 1984)

4. See http://loock.info/en/kuenstler/artists/natalia-stachon/exhibitions/2012/awaiting-oblivion


James D. Campbell

James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.

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